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Valley police officials speak out on relationship with DA’s office

A cornerstone of District Attorney Colleen Truden’s political defense is the fostering of what she says is a better relationship with law enforcement.So how do the valley’s police officials feel about her? And do they think their relationship with the district attorney’s office has improved?Two said yes, one said no, two others declined to comment, and Pitkin County Sheriff Bob Braudis said there hasn’t been enough crime to know the answer.Loren Ryerson, Aspen’s police chief, cited the tension surrounding the Dec. 13 recall election in declining to talk about his department’s relationship with the prosecutor.Braudis said Truden’s claims of a better relationship with law enforcement “doesn’t mean anything to me. I had a good relationship with Mac Myers (Truden’s predecessor).” But then, the sheriff’s office has maintained amicable ties with district attorneys for the past two decades, he said.”Prosecutorial discretion, in my experience, has not been wielded as much as I would like to see it,” he said. “But that (changes) from one DA to the next DA to the next DA. They’re elected in a three-county district that’s not as left-leaning as Pitkin County is.”Rocky relations in BasaltDownvalley, Basalt Police Chief Keith Ikeda said his department’s relationship with prosecutors has deteriorated since Truden took over.”We’re having a harder time filing cases with the Pitkin County DA’s office. We don’t have a good line of communications with that office that we’ve had in the past,” he said.Ikeda mentioned two juvenile cases that Basalt investigators tried to file as felonies. Prosecutors decided to try the cases as misdemeanors in municipal court.There are, of course, times when district attorneys and police differ on how a case should be handled. Ikeda noted the different standards between police and prosecutors.”We’re held to probable cause just to make an arrest. Their standard is ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ if it goes to trial. We understand those concerns,” he said. But “generally we do agree. We usually work with them to alleviate those concerns, so that they would move forward with the filing and prosecution of those cases,” Ikeda said.”However, with the new staff, because they don’t have a lot of experience in criminal prosecutions, I think there is hesitancy in filing these cases; whereas before, we had an experienced staff that we would be able to work with and get those cases filed.”As for poor communication between Truden’s office and his department, some of that is explainable by the fact that she has been in office only about 11 months, he said.”A lot of it is (because) we haven’t had enough time to establish a working relationship with them,” Ikeda said. “I write it off to that, but I do have concerns that we do not have a good working relationship with our DA’s office.”Another perspectiveIn the next county over, things couldn’t be more different. The top police officials in Carbondale and Garfield County say Truden has established better lines of communication than Myers. (Terry Wilson, Glenwood Springs police chief, said he is “strictly a nonpolitical animal” and declined to comment further.)Carbondale Police Chief Gene Schilling cited improved cooperation and a better attitude in Truden’s office. Previously, “we (would) submit cases, and it seemed like instead of reviewing the cases to see if they were prosecutable, they would review the cases to find out which ones they could get rid of so they could lower their caseload,” he said.Asked if Schilling was saying previous prosecutors were simply neglecting their sworn duties in exchange for less work, he said, “Well, who knows? Who can tell? I’m just telling you what it felt like on our end.”Schilling and Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario both agreed that arrests and prosecutions should be based on the merits of the case, not relationships between law enforcement agencies.”I absolutely agree with that,” said Vallario, who, like Schilling, supported Truden during last August’s primary election. “Unfortunately when relationships go south, there’s not that interaction.””(DAs) also need to be able to work with you,” Schilling added. “The district attorney’s office needs to review those cases and say, ‘This is what you need to do different or you don’t have enough to do it.’ We didn’t have that much of a give-take relationship with the previous district attorneys.”Communication between the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office and the district attorney’s office are such that “more (cases) are being filed in court with more of the charges than previously,” Vallario said. “We had a lot of cases that were being dismissed, or we might charge somebody with four charges and the DA may turn around and charge one.”So does Truden have a better relationship with law enforcement? Like so many things in this recall campaign, it depends on who you ask. Perhaps the most important thing is that citizens are entitled to cooperative and competent officials deciding who is arrested, who is prosecuted and who goes free, police officials say.”I think the citizens, for whom both law enforcement and prosecutors work for, expect a good relationship. I’ve had problems over the years with each and every prosecutor, but they were resolvable through dialogue,” Braudis said.


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